As tens of thousands of CAO applicants face the task of filling out their college application this month, they may find they are receiving seemingly contradictory advice.
On the one hand, they are advised to choose courses leading to employment opportunities, particularly in the science, information technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) sectors; on the other hand, they are advised to follow their interests above all.
Third-level education is understandably thought of by prospective students, and by their parents, as the time when you study something that helps you to get a real job.
So when students are urged to follow the course that interests them most, they sometimes feel that this is a luxury they cannot afford.
Many students and parents are anxious to see light at the end of the tunnel, in the shape of a job that affords them the opportunity to earn enough to live an independent life.
However, it is a fine balancing act. Students must enjoy the college courses they embark on.
If they are bored with the subject area, they may not graduate, and even if they do graduate, they may not be enthusiastic about working in the area after all.
So it is important that applicants apply for courses and career areas that match their aptitudes and interests.
It is probably best to think of the course they set out on initially as a first step in the journey to a career. Any degree opens doors.
At the time of application, CAO's key advice is: "It is most important that you state your course choices in view of genuine preference and/or career plans."
During the next few weeks, many colleges will host information sessions to allow applicants the opportunity to explore courses further, as well as to explain the CAO application process. Most of these events are posted on the website, www.qualifax.ie; just follow the link for "events calendar".
Trinity College ( TCD) hosts an information seminar for mature applicants tomorrow from 5pm-6pm (repeated from 6pm-7pm).
On Saturday a series of clinics will be held between 10am and 2pm in centres nationwide to explain the HEAR and DARE admissions schemes.
HEAR (the Higher Education Access Route) is a third-level admissions scheme for school leavers from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
DARE (Disability Access Route to Education) is a development of the supplementary admissions scheme for school leavers with disabilities. The schemes offer college places on reduced points, and other supports to students when in college.
The advice clinics on Saturday will take place as follows: Cork: Student Centre Devere Hall, UCC; Galway: NUIG Galway, Bailey Allen Hall; Limerick: University of Limerick, Main Building; Monaghan: Glencarn Hotel, Castleblayney; Dublin: DIT, Aungier St; Donegal: Villa Rose Hotel, Ballybofey; Kildare: NUI Maynooth, Phoenix Building; Westmeath: Athlone IT, John McCormack Hall.
HEAR and DARE Advice Clinics will also take place on Monday next, in Waterford at the Edmund Rice Heritage Centre, Barrack St, between 7pm-9pm; and on Thursday, January 17, in Ferrycarrig Hotel, Wexford, from 6.30pm-8.30pm, and the Carlton Hotel, Dan Spring Rd, Tralee Co Kerry, between 7pm and 9pm.
For more information visit www.accesscollege.ie